We’re nearing the halfway point of the season, which means it’s time for coaches to take stock in their teams. Whose stocks are nearing boom levels? Whose stocks are nearing Great Depression stages? We break out the crystal ball to find out!
Houston Texans (2-3) @ Cincinnati Bengals (4-1)
The Texans have an encyclopedia of injuries coming into this game, the biggest being defensive end Mario Williams (shoulder). He was an intimidating force on their defense, but with his participation in this game in doubt, the defense looks that much weaker. The offense needs to step up big time if they are going to win this game.
The Bengals have some problems on their line, with Tank Johnson and Andre Smith both nursing foot injuries. However, their offense still looks pretty strong, with only Cedric Benson’s (hip) playing time coming into doubt. Otherwise, the Bengals’ offense looks pretty strong, and should roll over the Texans on their way to Chicago.
Prediction: Bengals 24, Texans 0.
Detroit Lions (1-4) @ Green Bay Packers (2-2)
While the Lions have looked pretty good headed into this game, there is still a lot of work to be done, mainly in getting healthy. Matthew Stafford (knee) is questionable for the game, which takes out much of their leadership. Daunte Culpepper was impressive in his season debut, but the offensive line needs to get stronger (they’ve allowed seven sacks in two games since Culpepper came on) if they want to win their second game.
The Packers are relatively healthy coming off their bye week, with the only big loss being cornerback Will Blackmon (sprained knee). The offensive line got a big boost by signing tackle Mark Tauscher, which should make quarterback Aaron Rodgers feel safe in the pocket. They still need a lot of help on that line if they want to win this game. However, with the state the Lions are in right now, the Packers should have no trouble dispatching the Lions.
Prediction: Packers 20, Lions 7.
St. Louis Rams (0-5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3)
The Rams look absolutely terrible coming into this game, only scoring 34 points (least in the league) while allowing 146 (second worst in the league behind the Lions). Not only that, their leading rusher almost has as many yards as their leading passer (Steven Jackson has 30 less yards rushing than Kyle Boller has passing).
This is a team that is out of control, and they need to get some solid leadership if they want to have at least one win before the bye week.
The Jaguars are in crisis mode after a 41-0 dismantling by the Seahawks. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew spoke out about the offensive side of the ball on Wednesday; he couldn’t have been more right. In their final 10 drives last week, Jacksonville had seven three-and-out possessions, along with two fumbles and a failed fourth-down conversion.
This is a game of two teams that are headed down a road to a high draft pick. Whichever team bounces back from all of its problems the quickest will win this game.
Prediction: Jaguars 2, Rams 0 in overtime (I know this is kind of far-fetched, but these two teams are bad).
Baltimore Ravens (3-2) @ Minnesota Vikings (5-0)
The Ravens’ defense might take a big hit this week if Ed Reed (probable with a knee injury) can’t play. However, what they lost on defense, they made up for on offense by signing wide receiver and Super Bowl hero David Tyree. This definitely shores up their pass attack, and gives quarterback Joe Flacco another option.
The bad news for the Ravens: They have to go up against a Minnesota team that is firing on all cylinders. While Brett Favre (foot, knee, and ankle injuries) is not at 100 percent, they still have weapons on both sides of the ball that could make life difficult for opposing teams.
With the Ravens in the weakened state they're in, I expect the same thing to happen here as has happened to all of the Vikings’ opponents the last five weeks.
Prediction: Vikings 35, Ravens 10.
New York Giants (5-0) @ New Orleans Saints (4-0)
The battle of the undefeateds that nobody expected to happen is happening this week. For the Giants, it is a homecoming for quarterback Eli Manning as he comes home to the stadium his father, Archie, played in many years ago. Unfortunately, his start may be in doubt due to a heel injury he suffered two weeks ago.
They may also be without the services of their leading rusher, Ahmad Bradshaw (ankle and foot), which puts a slight damper in their offense. However, they have the rushing and receiving weapons to get the job done.
The Saints are coming off a bye week in which they got (almost) completely healthy.
Tight end Jeremy Shockey, a former Giant, says that there is no grudge against his former team, who traded him before training camp last year. On the other hand, there must be some satisfaction in beating your former team, and the Saints have the weapons (including Shockey) to do just that.
This is going to be a battle between two great teams. However, I believe that the Giants have just that little bit more to knock the Saints from the ranks of the undefeated.
Prediction: Giants 30, Saints 27 in overtime.
Cleveland Browns (1-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)
The Browns are coming off a big win against the Bills, which they hope will put their season back on track. Unfortunately, they have to go up against a rejuvenated Steelers' defense, as they expect to see safety Troy Polamalu, who has been out the past four weeks with a knee injury.
The Browns have to deal with injuries of their own, the biggest being running back Jamal Lewis (hamstring). The Browns seem to be making a bit of a comeback, but it needs to be bigger if they want to beat the Steelers.
The Steelers are having a bit of a good news/bad news week. The good news is they will most likely get back Polamalu for this game. The bad news is that they lost a big part of their defense, as defensive end Aaron Smith (shoulder) will be lost for the season.
They also lost a major part of their offense, as Willie Parker (toe) is out for this game. If they want to remain above .500, they must bounce back from their injuries, and they do have the depth to do so.
Prediction: Steelers 20, Browns 3.
Carolina Panthers (1-3) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5)
This game is between two teams that are in a downward spiral, and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping soon for either of them.
For the Panthers, it’s all about getting ready for a long, hard road. After this game and another easy game in Buffalo, they have a tough five week stretch. In that stretch, they have to face two divisional games in which the teams are currently 7-1 combined (Atlanta and New Orleans).
This week and next week should be easy, but they have to solidify as a team if they want to survive those five big weeks.
Where the Panthers are bad, the Buccaneers are even worse. They’ve scored more points (68 to the Panthers’ 57), but they’ve allowed 140 (36 more than the Panthers and third-worst in the league).
Not only that, there have been talks that Josh Freeman might play next game, if not this game. They’ve been through three quarterbacks this season, which really hurts their leadership on the field. If Josh Freeman or Josh Johnson don’t produce this week, the Buccaneers look to be the front-runners for the No. 1 draft pick.
Prediction: Panthers 40, Buccaneers 10.
Kansas City Chiefs (0-5) @ Washington Redskins (2-3)
Chiefs coach Todd Haley replaced wide receivers coach Dedric Ward, citing that they needed to be “better across the board.” This poses a problem for a team that is in desperate need of stability, because now the receivers have to get used to a new coaching philosophy in only three days. This could make the passing game, which was already in turmoil after Matt Cassel’s injury, even worse (if that’s possible).
The Redskins will be the first team in NFL history to play six winless teams to start the season. However, they have not been able to capitalize on that, only going 2-3 so far. They will miss left tackle Chris Samuels this week (knee), but the Chiefs have little to no defense to capitalize on the injury. If the Redskins don’t fall apart like they did at Carolina, they should be fine.
Prediction: Redskins 20, Chiefs 0.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) @ Oakland Raiders (1-4)
Jeremy Maclin has really come into his own as a rookie wide receiver, becoming a viable weapon for quarterback Donovan McNabb and the third-best receiver on the team. This takes some of the pressure off running back Brian Westbrook (probable with an ankle injury) and gives McNabb another option that opposing teams have to defend. No matter how you slice it, it all adds up to one big headache for the Raiders this week.
The Raiders have a slight advantage coming into this game: the distraction of animal rights activists who can’t leave well enough alone. A local animal rights group has decided to protest during the game over Michael Vick’s dog problems.
This might provide a little bit of a distraction for the Eagles, but it’s not enough to help the Raiders. They have injuries across the board (highlighted by Darren McFadden’s knee injury), they can’t score (49 points scored, second worst in the league), and the team (the players that are healthy, at least) is in massive disarray. Until they get everything together, they’ll be an easy win for any opponent.
Prediction: Eagles 48, Raiders 3.
Arizona Cardinals (2-2) @ Seattle Seahawks (2-3)
The Cardinals come into this game needing to deal with a lot of injuries, particularly cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie (finger). This puts a big hole into a defensive secondary that is near the bottom in the pass defense. They need to seal up those holes, especially the one left by Rogers-Cromartie, if they want to win this game against a very confident Seahawks team.
As was said before, the Seahawks are very confident, as they come off a 41-0 shellacking of the Jaguars.
They still need to work with injuries, particularly linebacker Lofa Tatupu (hamstring) and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (ribs). They learned how to deal with it last week against a depleted Jacksonville team, but the Cardinals might give them a bigger fight than they had last week.
It’ll be a good game, but the Cardinals, with less major injuries to worry about, should run away with this game in the later stages.
Prediction: Cardinals 17, Seahawks 3.
Tennessee Titans (0-5) @ New England Patriots (3-2)
The Titans are still a team in crisis mode after a miserable game at Indianapolis. They have the eighth-best rushing game in the NFL, but it has only produced four touchdowns. This could be bad against a smothering Patriots defense.
However, with linebacker Jerod Mayo (knee), defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (ankle), and linebacker Adalius Thomas (unknown) possibly not playing this week, could this be the week the Titans break through?
The Patriots' rushing attack took a big hit when they found out running back Fred Taylor (ankle) couldn’t go this week. Add that to Wes Welker’s (knee) injury and tackle Nick Kaczur’s ankle keeping him out and the offense looks pretty banged up.
However, their equally banged-up defense got a big boost this week when they signed linebacker Junior Seau. This should be that last little bit that the Patriots need to keep the Titans in the ranks of the winless.
Prediction: Patriots 20, Titans 14 in overtime.
Buffalo Bills (1-4) @ New York Jets (3-2)
The Bills have looked absolutely terrible in the last couple of weeks, dropping two games they should have won in Miami and Cleveland.
The fans are becoming more and more disgruntled, to the point where they even set up a billboard asking for coach Dick Jauron’s job. They must win this game if Jauron is able to keep his job for at least another week.
But, with two defensive mainstays on injured reserve (Kawika Mitchell and Marcus Buggs both went down with knee injuries), how will the Bills even make it out of East Rutherford with their coaching staff intact?
The Jets haven’t fared much better, losing two big games (to New Orleans and Miami) that they should have won. They have to deal with big injuries on both sides of the ball, particularly Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring) and Lito Sheppard (quadriceps).
However, they should have no problems with a Bills defense that is recovering slowly from injuries and an offense that can’t seem to do anything with the ball.
Prediction: Jets 49, Bills 12.
Chicago Bears (3-1) @ Atlanta Falcons (3-1)
The Bears are (almost) completely healthy coming off their bye week. However, after three weeks of easy play, including a win versus a decimated Steelers team, they face a relatively tough part of their schedule, starting this week.
The offense needs to vastly improve, as it ranks seventh in points scored but 22nd in total yards. If Jay Cutler can get the team on a couple good drives, the Bears should go into a tough game at Cincinnati very confident.
The Falcons lost a big part of their defense as they lost safety Antoine Harris last week (knee). They also face a pretty tough schedule as well, with games against New Orleans and Dallas on the horizon.
They need some confidence going into that tough stretch, and this might be just the game to do it in. If they control the game, like they have done the past couple of weeks, they should be fine.
Falcons win in a squeaker.
Prediction: Falcons 13, Bears 10 in overtime.
Denver Broncos (5-0) @ San Diego Chargers (2-2) (Monday)
The Broncos face a big divisional test this week, as they face a rejuvenated Chargers team fresh off a bye week. They also have to deal with the loss of safety Brian Dawkins (knee and shoulder). Dawkins hasn’t been really good in his career against the Chargers, but it is still a big hole in the Denver defense.
They will need a big game out of rookie Darcel McBath if they hope to stop Philip Rivers’ imposing pass attack.
Tight end Antonio Gates has gone on record saying that the next three weeks of the Chargers’ season (against the other three members of the AFC West) is a big stretch in their season. He is exactly right, as this stretch will dictate their whole season.
However, this is not a time for panic for the 2-2 Chargers, as all of their key players are healthy and they seem ready for the long haul.
However, I don’t think they have enough weapons to win this game. To paraphrase an old adage: “The Chargers cannot win on Phillip Rivers alone.”
Prediction: Broncos 30, Chargers 20.
So there you have it: Week Six in the NFL. Will we see more than one team fall from the ranks of the undefeated? Will any winless team finally break into the win column? Tune in to Week Six on a TV, cable box, or stadium near you to find out!